Creating Custom Man Pages
Man pages have been the primary source for UN*x documentation for a long time. Whenever I create a script that's going to be around for a while, I create documentation in the form of a section 1 man page. This stops my cell phone from ringing on the weekends when the junior sysadmins are looking for my notes.
Some people I know tend to shy away from writing man pages because they believe it's too difficult to learn how to correctly format man pages using troff or groff. Lucky for me, there's a much easier way to get the job done.
Marc Vertes (email@example.com) has written an excellent GNU AWK script called txt2man, which can run on almost any UN*X-like system, and can convert a flat ASCII text file to the correct man page format. txt2man (currently version 1.5.5-1) is distributed by the Fedora Project and is available from the EPEL Repository. The authors home page is http://mvertes.free.fr/txt2man/.
Once you've downloaded and installed the correct txt2man package for your system, you can get down to the business of creating a man page. First, get your information together into a single ASCII text file. You will still have to apply a specific formatting to your file, but nothing as complicated as troff/groff.
At the command line, type txt2man -h to view the built-in documentation, which will describe what to add to your file so that it gets correctly formatted later. The best example of how to format your text is actually the displayed help itself.
Using the command:
$ txt2man -h 2>&1 | txt2man -T
will display the built-in help and pipe it through txt2man to produce a formatted man page and preview it with the default pager. The same command, without the "-T" option, will display the troff/groff formatted output itself. If we redirect the output of the command to a file:
$ txt2man -h 2>&1 | txt2man > txt2man.1
and use gzip to compress the resulting file:
$ gzip txt2man.1
we can view the file as a regular man page:
$ man ./txt2man.1.gz
Notice I specified section 1 for my man page. By default, man will look for System Administration commands in section 8 and General Commands in section 1.
Now, all we need to do is copy our new man page to the appropriate directory for our system, as specified in the $MANPATH environment variable, or maybe in /etc/man.conf, depending on your UN*X/Linux distribution. On my RHEL5 systems, I keep my user generated man pages in /usr/local/man:
$ cp ./txt2man.1.gz /usr/local/man
Finally, I update the whatis database with:
and now my man page is available to all users.
Pete Vargas Mas is an avid indoorsman and a Linux Consultant in the Washington DC Metro area. Pete is a RHCE and a MCITP, which so far has not caused any eddies in the space-time continuum. He spends most of his time these days herding 529 Linux servers.
- Readers' Choice Awards 2013
- Mars Needs Women
- Linux Kernel News - November 2013
- RSS Feeds
- Sublime Text: One Editor to Rule Them All?
- Raspberry Pi: the Perfect Home Server
- December 2013 Issue of Linux Journal: Readers' Choice
- Tech Tip: Really Simple HTTP Server with Python
- IBM Will Minimize Impact of Future Disasters
- Linux Systems Administrator
- The kernel doesn't really
21 min 48 sec ago
52 min 48 sec ago
52 min 54 sec ago
2 hours 57 min ago
- This should be very helpful
4 hours 11 min ago
- As much as I share your point
6 hours 31 min ago
- So girls had it better ?
10 hours 3 min ago
- Reply to comment | Linux Journal
10 hours 23 min ago
- why is GNOME 3 in the fifth position at 14.1 %?
15 hours 55 min ago
- Sublime Is Brilliant!
20 hours 58 min ago